Monday, November 15, 2010
Apart from the 5 goal explosion in the 3rd period of the Pittsburgh game, the Bruins have only managed 4 goals in their last 4 games. To be fair, they're missing Marc Savard: the quarterback of the Power Play unit. And David Krejci: the playmaker that's been spearheading the 1st line. But there are just so many players on this team that simply don't score goals. And that's fine, because they usually do something else. Shawn Thornton and his linemates bring energy. Andrew Ference has become a decent defenseman (when he doesn't try to go beyond being Andrew Ference). And role-players like Daniel Paille can at least participate in a decent penalty-kill.
But what does Blake Wheeler do?
Seriously, what's his purpose?
I'm still no Michael Ryder fan, as he remains a Hab in my eyes (although unlike a Canadien, he actually got penalized for his diving on Saturday). But Ryder has an identity. And in the 30% of the time he's actually playing well, he can score goals.
What's Blake Wheeler, though? Who is Blake Wheeler? What's his identity? Is he a grinder? No. An igniting energy guy? A playmaker? A high slot Glen Murray type? A low slot Mark Recchi type? A fighter? A scrapper? Does he win battles along the boards? Does he trigger the rush through the neutral zone? No. He does nothing but fail.
So many Bruins' offensive possessions end with Blake Wheeler having the last touch. And it's not because he's scored, it's because he's either missed the goal completely, or turned the puck over.
He had an easy scoring opportunity on Saturday. Bergeron made a brilliant drive to the net on a Power Play, found a slit of space between Elliot and the post, and as the puck lazily dribbled across the goal-line, all Wheeler had to do was use his stick as a pool cue and nudge the puck forward. Instead, he missed. Not the net, but the puck. The curved blade of his stick glided over the puck, almost as if Wheeler intended to not score. Then he literally punched the puck over, in a goal that was instantly disallowed.
The announcers called it "unlucky," I call it unimpressive, untalented, and unworthy of a spot on this team.
Oh, and remember when he completely missed the goalmouth on a breakaway? Aiming for Elliot's glove, he hit the glass behind the net.
And then there was the time he tried lobbing the puck into the offensive zone, only to miss all 6,000 square feet of the zone and launch the puck over the glass and into the stands.
It's time for Wheeler and his $2.2 million cap hit to be launched out of Boston, and I don't care if it's a trade, or if he's released, or if he's run out of town, or if he's quietly eliminated by the Newfoundland mafia.
Then there's Stuart. Who, to his credit, serves a purpose. I've always compared Stuart to cavemen, to Neanderthals. And he definitely brings that aggressive, physical savagery to the game. It's slightly scary for opponents when Mark Stuart is on the ice. Unless they're trying to score a goal. In which case, he's quite the helper.
His caveman aggression seems to come with caveman intelligence. And on Saturday, he again was a key part in an opponent's goal. This time, you can say Chris Neil got away with a light bit of interference on Ryder. Then again, Stuart was screening Thomas enough to make Sean Avery jealous and/or proud.
Stuart's giveaways, and his constant mishandling of the puck are verging on Dennis Wideman levels of sabotage. Stuart is a great physical force, but there's a reason why Neanderthals are extinct. And that's what Mark Stuarts should be in Boston.
The Bruins need to get offense from somewhere, but it won't come from the Blake Wheelers of the world. It also won't come from the Shawn Thorntons, Jordan Carons, Gregory Campbells, and Brad Marchands of the world. This team has a lot of fake-depth, in that filling out the lineup isn't a painful struggle, but there are very few truly good players you can put out there.
Goaltending, defense, and a grinding offense. Those are the things this team can do well. And the likes of Blake Wheeler can't grind. Neither can Michael Ryder. And the likes of Mark Stuart can't figure out how to play good defense. Adjustment is needed.
The Bruins host the Devils Monday night.
"The Cleveland game was an aberration." Yes it apparently was. But not to be a total buzzkill, so was this. It's true, the Patriots did go to Pittsburgh and dominate. They played well in all three aspects of the game. And they haven't had a road win this big in a very long time (November 4, 2007 @ Indianapolis, in my opinion).
But let's remember how forlorn we were a week ago. We should try to avoid getting too high after this win. Let's also remember that the Steelers played most of this game without Hines Ward. Taking Hines Ward from Ben Roethlisberger is like taking the bullets out of a gun.
That being said, the biggest difference between this week and last was the play of Tom Brady. He went from barely completing half his passes, to completing about 3/4. He was throwing deep, outside, inside, all over the place. He also ran for a touchdown on a nice goal-line read. When he brings his A Game, the Patriots become a very difficult team to beat. When he doesn't, they're essentially a .500 team.
Gronkowski must have had a good week of practice, as he was Brady's favorite target. And it worked out well. Three TD catches for the tight-end, who caught 5 passes total for 72 yards. 8 different receivers caught passes.
The offensive line has been simply stellar all year long. And the defense finally showed up with a consistent pass rush. But give an assist to Pittsburgh's shaky O-Line for that.
There's still plenty of football left to play, but at least the Pats are back on the right track, have a big road win under their belts, and enter a tough stretch of games on the right foot.
Indianapolis comes to Foxborough on Sunday.